Three features into his career as director, and Louis Garrel’s vision remains unexpected and lively, channeled into decidedly comedic pieces that stand apart from the stylish melancholy associated with his father’s iconic film work. Existing in the same universe (though with minimal regard for continuity) and all focusing on Garrel’s own screen alter ego “Abel,” A Faithful Man, The Crusade, and now L’Innocent are written as contemporary parables, addressing current-day social dilemma and offering light moral critique through the bumblings and ignorance of their shared central character. Something of a Hulot for our times (and also kind of a Doinel), Abel’s proven to be a useful device for Garrel to interrogate both our current moment and himself, the self-interrogative nature of his unvain performance shielding the lessons in morality from sanctimony.
Whereas A Faithful Man played out as a fidelity farce, and The Crusade contended with the climate crisis, Garrel turns his attention toward rehabilitation and forgiveness with his new caper-comedy L’Innocent. Marking the first film Garrel didn’t write alongside late novelist/screenwriting icon Jean-Claude Carriére, L’Innocent nevertheless bears his influence in its parodic, off-kilter approach to exploring morality, which is surprisingly, deftly woven into an archetypal crime narrative, presumably informed by co-writer Tanguy Viel, a French novelist who writes on such things. Quickly establishing a new reality for Abel — now a childless widow giving guided tours to grade schoolers at the local aquarium — the film simultaneously introduces his heretofore unseen mother, Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg), and the source of L’Innocent’s primary conflict. Accused by Abel of using the local penitentiary as a dating service, Sylvie is indeed on her fifth relationship with a soon-to-be free convict, armed robber Michel (Roschdy Zem), who she marries and goes into business with immediately uponrelease. Upset to no end by his mother’s choice of husband, the emotionally repressed, often petulant Abel starts clumsily stalking Michel, hoping to catch him falling back on old habits, but mostly just embarrassing himself and the crush/friend (Noémie Merlant) he’s enlisted in his amateur spy games.
Playing out as a series of broad, hilarious setpieces (Garrel proving himself an adept comedian in just about every sense) that eventually merge into a more grounded heist movie, L’Innocent dodges expectations from beginning to end without devolving into incoherence. It’s a neat trick for a movie that deals heavily in big moral messages and genre archetype, but the cleanness with which Garrel executes his tonally complicated screenplay is undeniable, helped along by a talented cast tuned in to the film’s specific peculiarities. The rare contemporary movie that might actually be able to keep an audience off-balance while still engaging broadly, L’Innocent decidedly confirms Louis Garrel as a clever filmmaker capable of navigating between pop and arthouse sensibility, with no sign of strain.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 13.